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Taking it to the edge: Land: Post World War II

Following World War II, the further exploration of Australia was largely in the hands of geologists in the search for minerals and oil.  Their activities are largely outside the scope of this website, but their contribution cannot be overlooked.  There were still discoveries to be made, such as the Wolf Creek Meteor Crater in Western Australia, found in the 1950s during oil explorations. There was also the extraordinary survey and road making activities created with the development of the Woomera Rocket Range.

Len Beadell

Beadell is best known for his Gun Barrel Highway, one of a series of roads that he and the Gun Barrel Road Construction Party bulldozed through the Australian outback between 1947 and 1963.  Employed by the Long Range Weapons Establishment (later Weapons Research Establishment) at Salisbury, South Australia, Beadell was asked to choose a site for a rocket range, to survey it and the launch site and the supporting township, which would be named Woomera.  His roads, which were built to provide access to the range, are over 6,000 kilometres long, and opened up some 2.5 million square kilometres of desert in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

It was Beadell's practice to reconnoitre several hundred kilometres ahead of the main party - surveying the route.  Mostly he was the first white man to visit these areas, at least since the days of explorers in the 19th century.  There are instances where he surveyed a road deliberately past some striking feature in the landscape, or historical site - for instance Tallaringa Well, Mount Lindsay or Tietkens tree at Mount Leisler.  After Beadell's work, no one else could be said to be an explorer in the true sense of the word.

Len Beadell chronology

A full chronology of Beadell's work can be found in Mark Shephard's book A lifetime in the bush: the biography of Len Beadell. The following is a summary of that chronology.

1946    Appointed to find a location for a joint British/Australian government rocket range.

1947    Selects the site of Woomera and the flight path, north-west across the Great Victoria, Gibson and Sandy Deserts.

1948    Surveyed Woomera, and mapped area to the north.

1950  Continued to survey the centreline of the range.

1951  Located and surveyed the 250 mile, 300 mile, 400 mile and 500 mile points along the centreline of the range.  Tallaringa Well was located this year.  An important Aboriginal waterhole it had not been visited by a white man since Richard Maurice in May 1902.  A conservation park has now been proclaimed to protect the area.

1952  Selected the site for atomic bomb tests.

1953  Built access road to the site at Emu, which would become the first section of the Ann Beadell Highway. Later that year he was asked to locate a more accessible site. Maralinga was chosen and named, with access via the Transcontinental Railway.

1954  Prepared contour maps and developed the Maralinga site.

1955  The Gunbarrel Road Construction party was formed.  Selected the site for Giles weather station.  Originally required to determine the weather for atomic bomb tests, Giles is still operational and is the most remote meteorological station in Australia (25 01' 128 18'E).  The Gunbarrel Highway runs from Victory Downs (25 59' 132 58'E) (west of Kulgerra in Northern Territory) to Carnegie Station (25 47' 122 58'E) in Western Australia, which was reached in November 1958.

1956  Work continued on the Gunbarrel Highway.  Beadell began reconnaissance of a road from Mount Davies on the Gunbarrel across the Great Victoria Desert to Emu on the Ann Beadell Highway.  Sites for mobile meteorological stations were selected at Mount Lindsay in the Birksgate Range (27 01' 129 53'E) and Coffin Hill (27 31' 130 28'E).

1957  Work continued around Giles Weather Station, the Mount Davies Road, and Anne Beadell Highway.

1958  Gunbarrel Highway completed.

1959  Continued survey work at Maralinga.  Took five months off on an around the world  trip.

1960  Surveyed and constructed Sandy Blight Junction Road from east of Giles, north to Mount Leisler (23 19' 129 21' E), where he re-located a tree blazed by William Tietkens in May 1889.  From here he directed a road east to Mount Liebeg (23 16' 131 16' E), and also to the west (Gary Junction Road).

1961  Kintore Avenue was constructed.  This short section linked the Gunbarrel Highway with the Mount Davies road - named after nearby Mount Kintore (26 33' 130 29' E).  Another section of the Anne Beadell Highway was constructed from Anne's Corner to Voakes Hill (28 29' 130 34' E).  From Voakes Hill he constructed a road south to Cook on the Transcontinental railway.

1962  Anne Beadell Highway was continued west from Voakes Hill to the Western Australia border.  With his wife Anne and baby daughter Connie, Beadell reconnoitred a road south from Warburton (26 13' 126 39' E) across the Great Victoria Desert.  At what would become the Neale Junction he turned east to link up with the construction party.  Later that year he reconnoitred the road south from the Neale Junction to the railway line at Rawlinna.  This became the Connie Sue Highway.  Anne Beadell Highway was pushed west to Yeo Lake (27 58' 124 21' E).  The Anne Beadell Highway now ran over 1065 kilometres from Mabel Creek, near the Alice Spring's railway line, to Yeo Lake in Western Australia.  It had taken nearly ten years to complete.

1963  The Gary Highway from Everard Junction on the Gunbarrel Highway was pushed north to Gary Junction (22 30' 125 15' E) near the Canning Stock Route.  The Gary Junction Road was built across the Great Sandy Desert to Callawa Station (20 37' 120 30' E).

Reg Sprigg

The first motorised crossings of the Simpson Desert occurred in the early 1960s, undertaken by Geosurveys Australia (Director RC Sprigg) and by French Petroleum in 1963.  Geosurveys made four north-south crossings, and French Petroleum constructed a track from Dalhousie Springs to Birdsville, an east-west track.

The work undertaken by these and other geological surveys added important and valuable information regarding South Australia's (and Australia's) mineral potential.  In the Sprigg Family crossing of 1964, the mapping of the patchwork of salt lakes was refined, adding a further layer of knowledge to that of the earlier explorers.  Sprigg's Geosurveys Australia also undertook undersea exploration off the South Australian coast - geological, ecological and topographical surveys that further enriched the knowledge of the State's resources, which is what exploration is all about.


For further reading see: Shephard, Mark The Simpson Desert: natural history and human. Adelaide: Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) and Giles Publications, 1992

Sprigg, R. C. A geologist strikes out: recollections, 1954 - 1993; cartoons by Stephen Stanley ("Lafferty") Adelaide, S. Aust.: Reginald C. Sprigg, 1993

Sprigg, Griselda Dune is a four-letter word. Kent Town, S. Aust.: Wakefield Press, 2001


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